Apple’s iPhone may be ready for its next big act — as a springboard into “augmented reality,” a technology that projects life-like images into real-world settings viewed through a screen.
If you’ve heard about AR at all, it’s most likely because you’ve encountered “Pokemon Go,” in which players wander around neighborhoods trying to capture monsters only they can see on their phones. AR is also making its way into education and some industrial applications, such as product assembly and warehouse inventory management.
Now Apple is hoping to transform the technology from a geeky sideshow into a mass-market phenomenon. It’s embedding AR-ready technology into its iPhones later this year, potentially setting the stage for a rush of new apps that blur the line between reality and digital representation in new and imaginative ways.
“This is one of those huge things that we’ll look back at and marvel on the start of it,” Apple CEO Tim Cook told analysts during a Tuesday conference call. Many analysts agree. “This is the most important platform that Apple has created since the app store in 2008,” said Jan Dawson of Jackdaw Research.
There’s just one catch: No one can yet point to a killer app for AR, at least beyond the year-old (and fading) fad of “Pokemon Go.” Instead, analysts argue more generally that AR creates enormous potential for new games, home-remodeling apps that let you visualize new furnishings and decor in an existing room, education, health care and more.
For the moment, though, we’re basically stuck with demos created by developers, including a “Star Wars”-like droid rolling past a dog that doesn’t realize it’s there; a digital replica of Houston on a table ; and a virtual tour of Vincent Van Gogh’s bedroom.
At Apple, the introduction of AR gets underway in September with the release of iOS 11, the next version of the operating system that powers hundreds of millions of iPhones and iPads around the world
Tucked away in that release is an AR toolkit intended to help software developers create new AR apps.
Those apps, however, won’t work on just any Apple device — only the iPhone 6S and later models, including the hotly anticipated next-generation iPhone that Apple will release this fall. The 2017 iPad and iPad Pro will run AR apps as well.
Apple isn’t the only company betting big on AR. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg talked up the technology at a company presentation in April, calling it a “really important technology that changes how we use our phones.” Apple rivals such as Google and Microsoft are also starting to deploy AR systems .
Apple has been looking for something to lessen its dependence on the iPhone since the 2011 death of its co-founder CEO Steve Jobs, the driving force behind the company’s innovation factory.
Cook thought he had come up with a revolutionary product when Apple began selling its smartwatch in 2015, but the Apple Watch remains a niche product.
For now, the iPhone remains Apple’s dominant product, accounting for 55 percent of Apple’s $45.4 billion in revenue during the three months ended in June. The total revenue represented a 7 percent increase from the same time last year. Apple earned $8.7 billion, up 12 percent from last year.
Tim Merel, managing director of technology consulting firm Digi-Capital, believes Apple’s entry into AR will catalyze the field. His firm expects AR to mushroom into an $83 billion market by 2021, up from $1.2 billion last year.
That estimate assumes that Apple and its rivals will expand beyond AR software to high-tech glasses and other devices, such as Microsoft’s HoloLens headset.
Craig Federighi, Senior Vice President Software Engineering speaks about “Augmented Reality” during Apple’s annual world wide developer conference (WWDC) in San Jose, California, June 5, 2017.
For now, though, nothing appears better suited for interacting with AR than the smartphone. Google already makes AR software called Tango that debuted on one Lenovo smartphone last year and will be part of another high-end device from Asus this month.
But it will be years before Tango phones are as widely used as iPhones, or for that matter, iPads. Most of those devices are expected to become AR-ready when the free iOS 11 update hits next month.
Nearly 90 percent of Apple devices powered by iOS typically install the new software version when it comes out. Assuming that pattern holds true this fall, that will bring AR to about 300 million Apple devices that are already in people’s hands.
If the new software wins over more AR fans as Apple hopes, analysts figure that Apple will begin building AR-specific devices, too.
One obvious possibility might be some kind of AR glasses tethered to the iPhone, which would allow people to observe digital reality without having to look “through” a phone. Once technology allows, a standalone headset could render the iPhone unnecessary, at least for many applications.
Such a device could ultimately supplant the iPhone, although that isn’t likely to happen for five to 10 years, even by the most optimistic estimates.
News Courtesy: VOA NEWS
Netflix is pulling in new viewers and award nominations in droves, but the online video service still faces a long-term problem: Its acclaimed programming line-up is costing far more money than what subscribers pay for it.
That hasn’t been a big issue so far, thanks to investors’ willingness to accept scant profits in exchange for robust subscriber growth.
Netflix delivered on that front again Monday, announcing that it added 5.2 million subscribers in the second quarter covering April to June. That’s the largest increase ever during the period, which has always been the company’s slowest time of year.
Wall Street rewarded Netflix by driving up its stock by more than 10 percent to $178.30 in extended trading, putting the shares on track to hit a new high in Tuesday’s regular trading.
The Los Gatos, California, company now has 104 million subscribers worldwide. For the first time in its history, most of those subscribers (slightly more than 52 million) are outside the U.S.
That milestone could further complicate Netflix’s cost issues, since the company will need to keep creating more shows that appeal to the unique interests of viewers in countries such as Japan, India and Indonesia.
“It is going to be imperative for them to have more locally produced content,” says CFRA Research analyst Tuna Amobi. “They can’t afford to pursue a ‘one-size-fits-all’ strategy.”
As part of its efforts to boost its profits, Netflix is becoming more aggressive about dumping shows that aren’t drawing enough viewers to justify their costs. In the second quarter, Netflix jettisoned both the high-concept science fiction show “Sense 8” and the musical drama “The Get Down.”
In a Monday letter to shareholders, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings made it clear that the company plans to exert more discipline in the future. “They are becoming more like any other Hollywood studio and paying more attention to the economics of their shows,” Amobi said.
The subscriber growth further validates Netflix’s decision to expand into original programming five years ago. Two of its longest running shows — “House of Cards” and “Orange Is The New Black” — recently launched their latest seasons.
Those two series, along with new hits like “Master of None” and “13 Reasons Why,” helped Netflix easily surpass the average 1.8 million subscribers it has added in the second quarter over the past five years.
This fall, new seasons of two other hits, “Stranger Things” and “The Crown,” are due. Those two series accounted for about a third of the 91 Emmy nominations that 27 different Netflix programs received last week — more than any other TV network except its role model, HBO, which landed 111 nominations.
But the success hasn’t come cheaply.
Netflix is locked into contracts requiring it to pay more than $13 billion for programming during the next three years, a burden that has forced the company to borrow to pay its bills.
After burning through $1.7 billion in cash last year, Netflix expects that figure to rise to as much as $2.5 billion this year. It’s continuing to invest in more original programming amid increasing competition from the likes of Amazon, Hulu and YouTube.
Netflix expects to be spending more money than it brings in for several more years. It posted a more detailed explanation about its negative cash flow to give investors a better grasp of its programming expenses.
The company is still profitable under corporate accounting rules, although its earnings remain puny by Wall Street standards. It earned $66 million on revenue of $2.8 billion in revenue during its latest quarter.
Funding international operations remains Netflix’s biggest financial drag, although the overseas losses are narrowing. The company now expects its international operation to produce a small operating profit for the full year.
Netflix also could make more money by raising its prices closer to the $15 per month that HBO charges for its streaming service, but the company has said no increases are planned in the near future. Netflix’s U.S. rates currently range from $8 to $12 per month.
News Courtesy: VOA NEWS
“Sir, my father was an Islamic State militant, but he divorced my mother in 2013,” said Jassem Mohammad, 21, pulling out his identification card and presenting it to the camp manager. “He now has two other wives.”
In a tiny patch of shade on the edge of a blistering desert camp outside of Mosul, the manager listened as Mohammad made his case. He wanted to leave the camp and go back to college. He had good scores, he said, and was never involved with IS.
Militant rule in Mosul has collapsed and IS fighters here are dead, fled, arrested or in hiding. But as their relatives try to re-integrate into society, Iraqi authorities face impossible questions with only bad answers.
If someone loved or even tolerated an IS militant, is that person guilty? How do the relatives of the perpetrators make peace with the relatives of the victims?
Medics at this collection point for fleeing families treat a baby for malnutrition, which they say is widespread among children in Mosul, Iraq, on July 12, 2017
Officially in Iraq, the answer to the first question is “no,” especially when speaking of small children. Women and children fleeing areas IS occupied are checked for bombs, and when cleared, they are considered civilians.
Unofficially, families of militants are shunned, feared and often separated from the “regular” people, all traumatized by violence and extreme poverty under IS. Many IS families now live in camps, like Mohammad, where they are not quite sure if they are being detained or protected. And both, in fact, are true.
“We’d need to see the divorce papers,” the camp manager explained to Mohammad. If Mohammad offered evidence that his father was not in his life during IS rule in Mosul, it might be possible for him to go back to school.
“I want to study and do humanitarian work,” Mohammad continued, pleading his case to a nearby journalist.
As Mohammad and the reporter chatted, the camp manager looked nonplused and strolled away. A security officer, in contrast, was visibly annoyed and abruptly ended the conversation.
“You cannot talk to him without official permission,” he said, ushering all journalists out of the camp. Other Iraqi officers said they worry that news about camps set aside for IS families will make them look like monsters, locking up women and children.
“What can we do as the Iraqi government?” said a member of a community police force who didn’t want to be named because he was not authorized to speak to the media. “We are exposed to danger. They are families, but we can’t loose them without rehabilitation.”
Distrust on all sides
Inside the city, at the base of a long-dormant Ferris wheel, a short row of tents served as a collection point for families fleeing Mosul in the final days of battle.
Women and children filed into the tents, some collapsing where they sat. Medics treated injuries and food and water alleviated some of the most pressing pains. Many of the people had been hiding in basements for weeks, after months of water shortages. The smell of unwashed bodies was pungent and the heat in the stagnant tents was overwhelming.
“We were imprisoned,” said Khalifa, 46, a mother of three. Unlike the rest of the women in the tent, she wore no veil and her curly hair was tousled. “We tried to run away and militants locked us in a basement. For the past three days we’ve had no food or water.”
“Once they brought us food in the basement,” adds Hoda, 25, her daughter. “He came down wearing a suicide vest.”
Their story echoed tales from families all over Mosul and, even if their husbands or fathers were IS fighters, it could still be true. However, local authorities worried they were lying, casting themselves as victims, rather than somehow complicit.
In Old Mosul, dead IS militants are scattered in houses and on the streets and the smell is overwhelming in 45-plus degree Celsius weather on July 13, 2017 in Mosul.
One man peppered Hoda with questions about the neighborhood she said she was from. IS militants in Mosul were often not stationed near their original homes. Hoda failed to identify the most famous church, mosque and graveyard in the area.
“See, they are an IS family,” the man said. “They are lying.”
Another woman, Fatima, a mother of eight, said for relatives of IS omitting certain truths is a matter of survival. Sitting with an intelligence official, Fatima admitted she had two brothers that fought with IS. Both, she said, are now dead and she never supported their decision to join IS.
But when the officer walked away, she said at least one of her brothers is alive and now in Tal Afar, an Iraqi city still held by IS.
“We are afraid to tell them when we talk to family members who are with IS,” she whispered. “We don’t want to be blamed for what they did.”
News Courtesy: VOA NEWS
Afghanistan says it will begin blocking all online activity and websites linked to terror groups or extremists later this week, under terms of a cybercrime bill the government signed into law last month.
The Ministry of Telecommunications and Information Technology said it is gathering a list of websites linked to terror groups or their supporters, based on information from the National Intelligence Directorate (NDS) and the Ministry of Information and Culture.
Najib Nangyal, a ministry spokesperson, said website-blocking will begin this Saturday, as authorized by the National Cyber Security Strategy of Afghanistan (NCSA) and the new Cyber Crimes Act.
Voice of concern
A dissenting voice has been raised by the nongovernmental organization Nai, Supporting Open Media in Afghanistan. The group opposes the new cybercrime law on the grounds that it limits freedom of expression and access to information.
Telecommunications ministry spokesperson Nangyal denied those charges in a statement to VOA’s Ashna radio.
The new criminal law that President Ashraf Ghani signed last Friday contains 27 articles related to prohibited cyberactivities. It is the first comprehensive attempt to catalog cybercrimes and violations in 15 years, a period during which online activity in the country expanded greatly.
Internet services for 6 million
Although parts of Afghanistan are still ravaged by war, the country of 32 million people now has internet services capable of serving 6 million people. A lack of cyber regulations, meanwhile, has allowed terrorists and extremist groups to continue working online, the government said.
Media rights group Nai, established in 2005 with the support of the Internews network, is currently supported by funds from USAID, the U.S. international development agency. Mojib Khalwatgar, head of Nai, said his agency is concerned about vague and undefined terms used in much of the law, and in particular on its potential effect upon journalists.
Nai’s statement of “general beliefs” about the new law says it appears to potentially criminalize any exchange of data or software from one computer to another, and that any normal activity by an organization’s information technology staff could be construed to be a criminal act.
Mohammad Ahmadi contributed to this report
Text Courtesy: VOA NEWS
Featured Image Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons
Strange sea creatures that resemble large pink thimbles are showing up on the coast of southeast Alaska for the first time after making their way north along the West Coast for the last few years.
Scientists say the creatures are pyrosomes, which are tropical, filter-feeding spineless creatures usually found along the equator. They appear to be one long pink tube, but in reality, they’re thousands of multicelled creatures mushed together, generally about 6 inches (15 centimeters) long.
Pyrosomes have been working their way north, Ric Brodeur, a researcher with the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, told the Associated Press on Monday.
Brodeur, who is based at the agency’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Newport, Oregon, said pyrosomes were first seen on the Oregon coast in 2014 and every year since. More recently, the animals have made their way up farther north on the Washington state coast, Canada’s British Columbia and Alaska.
Jim Murphy, a biologist with the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said pyrosomes spotted near Alaska this year marked the first documented presence of the animals that far north, and their appearance is cause for concern.
“It means that we are clearly seeing really big changes in the marine ecosystem,” he told The Juneau Empire.
Researchers have speculated that the bloom is tied to warmer ocean temperatures in the Pacific Ocean in recent years. But temperatures have nearly cooled back to normal this year, Murphy said, and these pyrosomes started showed up in the middle of winter.
Leon Shaul, a biologist with Fish and Game, has been tracking the appearance of pyrosomes in southeast Alaska. He said he’s “emailed the whole world” about the issue, but hasn’t heard much back.
Brodeur told the AP that it’s also unusual how close to shore the pyrosomes have come, although they are now being found farther offshore again.
He said the creatures have a low nutritional value, and that raises concerns on how they will affect the fish that eat them.
“They’re not the greatest food for the animals out there, compared to the things they normally have,” he said.
Pyrosomes aren’t harmful to humans, but they have puzzled those who’ve encountered them.
Angler Don Jeske was fishing for king salmon in February when he said he found himself surrounded by “millions” of the tube-shaped creatures and he’d never seen anything like it in his 50 years of trolling around Sitka, a fishing town about 90 miles southwest of Juneau.
“They were all over out there, they were everywhere. … I would say millions, not hundreds of thousands,” he said. “This is a weird organism, man.”
Text Courtesy: VOA NEWS
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India early on Saturday introduced its biggest tax reform in the 70 years since independence from British colonial rule.
The Goods and Services Tax (GST) replaces more than a dozen federal and state levies and unifying a $2 trillion economy and 1.3 billion people into one of the world’s biggest common markets.
The measure is expected to make it easier to do business by simplifying the tax structure and ensuring greater compliance, boosting Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s economic credentials before a planned re-election bid in 2019.
At a midnight ceremony in parliament’s central hall Modi and President Pranab Mukherjee together launched the new tax by pressing a button.
“With GST, the dream of ‘One India, Great India’ will come true,” Modi said.
For the first midnight ceremony in the central hall in two decades, Modi was joined by his cabinet colleagues, India’s central bank chief, a former prime minister and major company executives including Ratan Tata.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi attends an event a day ahead of the implementation of the nationwide Goods and Services Tax (GST) in Ahmadabad, India, June 30, 2017.
The launch, however, was boycotted by several opposition parties including the Congress Party, which first proposed the tax reform before it fell from power three years ago.
Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh – the architect of India’s economic reforms – also gave it a miss.
It has taken 14 years for the new sales tax to come into being. But horse trading to get recalcitrant Indian states on board has left Asia’s third-largest economy with a complex tax structure.
In contrast to simpler sales taxes in other countries, India’s GST has four rates and numerous exemptions.
The official schedule of rates runs to 213 pages and has undergone repeated changes, some taking place as late as on Friday evening.
Many businesses are nervous about how the changes will unfold, with smaller ones saying they will get hit by higher tax rates.
Adding to the complexity, businesses with pan-India operations face filing over 1,000 digital returns a year.
While higher tax rates for services and non-food items are expected to fuel price pressures, compliance is feared to be a major challenge in a country where many entrepreneurs are not computer literate and rely on handwritten ledgers.
“We have jumped into a river but don’t know its depth,” said A. Subba Rao, an executive director at power firm CLP India.
‘One Tax, One Market, One Nation’
Poor implementation would deal a blow to an economy that is still recovering from Modi’s decision late last year to outlaw 86 percent of the currency in circulation.
In a bid to mitigate the impact on the farm sector, the GST rates for tractors and fertilizer were slashed on Friday to 18 percent and 5 percent, respectively.
HSBC estimates the reform, despite its flaws, could add 0.4 percentage points to economic growth.
An end of tax arbitrage under the GST is estimated to save companies $14 billion in reduced logistics costs and efficiency gains.
As the GST is a value added tax, firms will have an incentive to comply in order to avail credit for taxes already paid. This should widen the tax net, shoring up public finances.
“The old India was economically fragmented,” Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said. “The new India will create one tax, one market for one nation.”
Text Courtesy: VOA NEWS
Pictures Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons
Australian police charged a top Vatican cardinal Thursday with multiple counts of historical sexual assault offenses, a stunning decision certain to rock the highest levels of the Holy See.
Cardinal George Pell, Pope Francis’ chief financial adviser and Australia’s most senior Catholic, is the highest-ranking Vatican official to ever be charged in the church’s long-running sexual abuse scandal.
Victoria state Police Deputy Commissioner Shane Patton said police have a summons for Pell to appear in an Australian court to face multiple charges of “historical sexual assault offenses,” meaning offenses that generally occurred some time ago. Patton said there are multiple complainants against Pell, but gave no other details on the allegations against the cardinal. Pell was ordered to appear in Melbourne Magistrates Court July 18.
Pell, 76, has repeatedly denied all abuse allegations made against him. The Catholic Church in Australia, which issues statements on Pell’s behalf, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the charges.
“It is important to note that none of the allegations that have been made against Cardinal Pell have, obviously, been tested in any court yet,” Patton told reporters in Melbourne. “Cardinal Pell, like any other defendant, has a right to due process.”
The charges are a new and serious blow to Pope Francis, who has suffered several credibility setbacks in his promised “zero tolerance” policy about sex abuse.
For years, Pell has faced allegations that he mishandled cases of clergy abuse when he was archbishop of Melbourne and, later, Sydney.
His actions as archbishop came under intense scrutiny in recent years by a government-authorized investigation into how the Catholic Church and other institutions have responded to the sexual abuse of children. Australia’s Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, the nation’s highest form of inquiry, has found shocking levels of abuse in Australia’s Catholic Church, revealing earlier this year that 7 percent of Catholic priests were accused of sexually abusing children over the past several decades.
Last year, Pell acknowledged during his testimony to the commission that the Catholic Church had made “enormous mistakes” in allowing thousands of children to be raped and molested by priests. He conceded that he, too, had erred by often believing the priests over victims who alleged abuse. And he vowed to help end a rash of suicides that has plagued church abuse victims in his Australian hometown of Ballarat.
Cardinal himself accused
But more recently, Pell himself became the focus of a clergy sex abuse investigation, with Victoria detectives flying to the Vatican last year to interview the cardinal. It is unclear what allegations the charges announced Thursday relate to, but two men, now in their 40s, have said that Pell touched them inappropriately at a swimming pool in the late 1970s, when Pell was a senior priest in Melbourne.
Australia has no extradition treaty with the Vatican, but the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney issued a statement on behalf of Pell, saying he would return to Australia to clear his name.
When Francis was asked last year about the accusations against Pell, he said he wanted to wait for Australian justice to take its course before judging.
“It’s true, there is a doubt,” he told reporters en route home from Poland. “We have to wait for justice and not first make a mediatic judgment — a judgment of gossip — because that won’t help.”
Given Francis’ credibility is on the line, any decision to keep Pell on as prefect while facing charges would reflect poorly on Francis, given he remains one of the pope’s top advisers.
Text Courtesy: VOA NEWS
An Indian man on death row in Pakistan after a military court sentenced him on charges of espionage, sabotage and terrorism has appealed to the country’s army chief for clemency.
India had earlier appealed to the International Court of Justice, the highest legal body under the United Nations, in the case of Kulbhushan Sudhir Jadhav. India said Pakistan had sentenced an innocent Indian citizen without granting him diplomatic access, which is in violation of an international treaty.
The court ordered Pakistan last month to delay Jadhav’s execution until the final verdict.
Pakistan says Jadhav confessed to being an Indian spy working to disrupt the development of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, a network of railways and roads that is part of the larger One Belt One Road Initiative launched by China.
In a 10-minute video released by the military, the second of its kind, Jadhav said his activities were designed to support separatist groups in Pakistan’s restive Balochistan province to “raise the level of insurgency.”
A news release by the Pakistan military’s public relations wing said Jadhav had “expressed remorse” over lives lost and damage caused by his actions and asked for mercy on “compassionate grounds.”
According to authorities, Jadhav claimed to have had a hand in sectarian violence, targeting Shi’ite Muslims, that had plagued Pakistan for a while.
Center of conflict
Balochistan has long been the center of a conflict between separatist insurgents and Pakistan’s military. It is also along the route of China’s planned economic corridor, which involves an investment of upward of $50 billion. The success of the project depends upon securing the routes.
Tensions between India and neighboring Pakistan, both nuclear-armed countries, have been high since a heavily armed group attacked an Indian air force base in Pathankot early last year. India blamed Pakistan-based militants for the attack.
The two sides have also been exchanging intermittent fire along the Line of Control, the de facto border in the disputed Kashmir region.